We are a diverse group of individuals spread all around the globe, but despite the distance, I feel that we are friends—not just co-workers—and we care about each other.

Kayla Boisvert, Research Manager, ACCESS 

Friendship and Care as True Partnership in Research: A Personal Reflection

Apr 10, 2022

Written by Kayla Boisvert, Research Manager, ACCESS

In December 2021, I presented on behalf of ACCESS at ReWired. ACCESS is a research partnership between the University of Auckland, the Accelerated Education Working Group, and Dubai Cares which aims to understand the wider political economy of Accelerated Education Programmes (AEP) and how it influences how they are embedded in education systems. 

The title of the panel was, “Innovations in Strengthening the EiE Evidence Base: Towards Equitable and Localized Knowledge Generation.I know the title of this blog seems a far cry from the panel topic, but bear with me. In ACCESS, we not only focus on what we do, but how we do it. We strive for co-production of our research. That was our entry into the panel—how we create true and equal partnership within the research team. During that panel, and in many instances throughout ACCESS, I’ve been reflecting on what true partnership means to me. I’ve come to realize that one of the most important elements of true partnership is friendship—truly caring about each other. 

One cartoon fox stands in front of a desk with a computer monitor on it. Three cartoon foxes pop out through the monitor to give the first fox a hug

We are a diverse group of individuals spread all around the globe, but despite the distance, I feel that we are friends—not just co-workers—and we care about each other.

We care about getting to know each other as people. 

Some of the most meaningful moments in the past year have involved getting to know bits and pieces of my team members’ lives—who likes to cook, who loves to go camping with their kids, who loves their dogs like their children, who dreams of traveling the world. When the team met for the first time, we made a conscious effort to share details about ourselves personally. Later on, we shared our new years’ resolutions, and on another occasion, we told each other about one thing we hoped to do by our next “tens” birthday. I said I wanted to summit a certain 20,000+ foot mountain in Ecuador before I turned 40, and a team member told us her dream of going to Mt. Everest basecamp—who would’ve known we shared a love of big mountains! One of the most important meetings I had in ACCESS was when another teammate and I managed to wrap up the “shop talk” early and somehow got onto the topic of introversion. I learned that I shared with her an extreme introversion and a need to recharge after social events. We also discovered that we both have different ways of grappling with our predominantly extroverted families. Instantly, I felt that thousands of miles, different cultures, and never having met before were bridged by discovering that we shared the most fundamental of personality traits. 

We care about what’s going on in our lives. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more apparent than ever the importance of care and connection—of asking how the other is doing, and of sharing how you are getting along. A practice that is meaningful to me within ACCESS is the practice of checking in with each other at the beginning of meetings. While it isn’t always formalized, we often spend anywhere from a couple minutes to half an hour just talking about the things that are going on in the world and our families—anything from how our kids our coping to events we’ve recently attended. A particular moment that I felt particularly cared for was when a team member reached out to ask how two close family members, who had recently been very sick, were doing. I had been struggling with the inability to control the situation and to really be able to help, and it was drawing time and focus away from my work. Checking in about something big going on in my life and demonstrating flexibility to allow me to prioritize myself and my family was a simple gesture that had tremendous impact for me. 

We care about each other’s wellbeing. 

One of the most difficult and inspiring moments on the ACCESS project for me was when we all came together to pre-record an unscripted dialogue about meaningful partnership, ironically. I have a lifelong fear of public speaking, which I’ve managed to overcome when giving academic presentations with a prepared lecture, a fancy PowerPoint, big jargon-y words, and numbers. Lots of numbers. But anything outside of that realm instantly paralyzes me. It was no different the morning of the recording. I made it less than a third of the way through introducing myself—“Hi, my name is Kayla, and I’m the ACCESS research manag…”—before I choked up, my mouth stopped saying coherent words, and my eyes filled with tears. I was transported somewhere outside of my body, unable to say or do what my mind was telling me to say and do. Fortunately, I had warned my team about this phobia, so they were able to jump in, tell me everything’s okay, and hold space for me to try and pick up the pieces of myself. I said I needed a minute, turned off my video, and tried to come back to myself for what felt like an eternity. When I decided it wasn’t possible, I turned my camera back on and told my team I will not be able to participate. The outpouring of support that I received from the team in that moment and in the days that followed over email, WhatsApp, and phone calls showed me that we are more than just co-workers—we are friends. 

Francine Menashy and Zeena Zakaria, who are fellow E-Cubed grantees, recently released findings from their three-year longitudinal study. They identified five principles to positive partnerships in education in emergencies—care, trust & respect, communication, self-reflection, and mutual learning. They define care as: 

…the sometimes intangible ways in which partners interact and approach their activities while collaborating with one another as fellow humans rather than merely fellow humanitarians and/or education professionals. Care includes basic human behaviour such as kindness and thoughtfulness, as well as empathy for one another’s circumstances. Care also derives from a degree of vulnerability, through which partners come to know one another’s struggles and strengths, both professionally and personally. Care allows partners to truly grasp one another’s needs, including for flexibility and understanding. 

This definition really resonated with me. To me, in ACCESS, these meaningful relationships have been built through informal messages of care, shared photos on WhatsApp, time at the beginning of meetings to check in. Through seeing each other as whole human beings, rather than simply as co-workers. Through having the vulnerability to share one’s story and to really hear another’s. 

Reflecting on these points over the past several months has inspired me to think further about how to more regularly integrate these practices of care into our work. How can we bring our whole selves, not just our professional selves, to our work? How can we make space and time for caring—how can we make it a norm? In a world of being oceans and time zones apart, ACCESS has shown me that it’s still possible to have many elements of care and relationship in our work. That’s good news—because in today’s world, care is more important than ever.

To learn more about the work we do, view our panel from the ReWired Conference.